History of St. Isabel
On Friday evening, February 27, 1998, Most Reverend John J. Nevins, Bishop of Venice Diocese, came to Sanibel Island for the dedication and blessing of the new St. Isabel Hall. To best understand the significance and deepest meaning of Friday, February 27, 1998, let us go back to pioneer years of St. Isabel mission.
Birth of a Mission
In 1956, on January 16, His Excellency Bishop Joseph P. Hurley had the vision and foresight to buy a tract of land on Sanibel. The twenty acres was to become the center of St. Isabel parish. Shortly after the property was purchased Fr. Miguel Goni, administrator of Ascension Parish on Ft. Myers Beach, began using the property by having picnics and social gatherings. Just about this time, Fr. Goni would come to Sanibel by boat every Sunday and say mass in private homes. The normal means of transportation to Sanibel was a ferryboat until the bridge and causeway were built in 1963. A handful of Catholics were meeting for Sunday Mass in an apartment owned by Mrs. Priscilla Murphy. In a newspaper clipping dated June 19, 1965, Fr. Goni said he was offering Mass for eleven families and many visitors. As the number of worshipers grew, Olivia B. Hoile of Columbia, S.C., offered her house for Sunday worship.
First Signs of Growth
In 1963 the Sanibel Causeway and bridge were completed and, of course, this brought many new people to Sanibel. The little mission of St. Isabel was growing not only with more visitors, but also with families establishing permanent residences here.
Now that the bridge to Sanibel was complete more northerners were discovering Sanibel. It was time to provide a larger facility for Sunday worship. On May 7, 1963, Msgr. Robert Schiefen, who was the chancellor for the Diocese of Miami at that time, applied for assistance from the Extension Society for the construction of the mission chapel. Fr. Goni received an $11,000 grant from the Extension Society and on 9/6/63 he received permission to build the first edition of St. Isabel, which cost a total of $35,000. The balance came from a nucleus of families and visitors.
For five long years the people worked and sacrificed and prayed. While the campaign was under way, the people of St. Isabel worshipped God in a kindergarten building until the church was finished.
Finally on June 19, 1965, the Rt. Rev. Coleman F. Carroll, Bishop of Miami, dedicated the new church. A few days before this, Fr. Goni was saying Mass in a kindergarten building together with his people. When Fr. Goni turned to the people and said: “The mass is ended...Go in Peace,” an era in the history of St. Isabel was over. And when Bishop Carroll intoned the words: “Let us proceed in peace,” a new era was initiated.
Fr. Goni continued to travel between Ascension parish and St. Isabel mission weekly. Only now he was able to drive over the causeway. He continued doing this until April 5, 1967, when he was appointed administrator of a new parish in the Miami Lakes area of Dade County. Fr. Goni was to begin another new parish.
On the same day Bishop Carroll appointed Fr. Claude Brubaker pastor of Ascension Parish, Ft. Myers Beach, with its filial mission of St. Isabel on Sanibel Island. Fr. Brubaker remained at Ascension Parish only one year and then moved on to St. Mary’s Church in St. Petersburg in April 1968.
Fr. Normand Hardy became the new pastor of Ascension and St. Isabel Mission in April 1968. By this time many more people were coming to St. Isabel Mission and therefore there were more demands for a priest. As yet there was not a resident priest at St. Isabel. Some time in 1968 the St. Petersburg Diocese was created and the Most Rev. Charles B. McLaughlin became the first bishop. On June 18, 1968, Bishop Carroll signed off on a quitclaim deed to Bishop Charles B. McLaughlin, the new Bishop of St. Petersburg. And so St. Isabel Mission is now part of St. Petersburg Diocese.
Day by day the general population of all of Florida was constantly growing. Ft. Myers Beach and Sanibel were both feeling the increase of populace and, of course, construction. Because of this growth, Fr. Conrad Lebel is assigned to Ascension Parish and St. Isabel Mission in 1968 as the first Associate Pastor.
In a letter dated Dec. 20, 1968, to Bishop Charles McLaughlin, Fr. Conrad Lebel refers to a conversation in which the topics of a parish hall and a rectory came up. The parishioners wanted the rectory built before the Parish Hall in order to have a priest available to them, and also to reserve the Blessed sacrament in the mission chapel. The parishioners wanted a priest to live among them. St. Isabel would remain a mission for a few more years to come.
Between the years of 1968 and 1972, there was much correspondence regarding St. Isabel’s development plan. Priests were being moved and transferred to various parishes. In a weekly bulletin dated Dec. 21, 1969, we find that Fr. Lebel has been transferred and now there are two associates at Ascension parish on Ft. Myers Beach. The manes of Fr. Beaudet, Fr. Beauregard and Fr. Hardy, the pastor, are printed in the bulletin. By May 31, 1970, there was only one associate at Ascension parish, Fr. Beauregard.
In a St. Isabel Mission bulletin dated Jan. 31, 1971, Fr. Hardy states: “We are all anxious to see our Most Reverend Bishop assign a priest permanently to our mission.” Fr. Hardy went on to stress the importance of financially supporting the residence of a priest. He appeals to both the residents and the winter residents. At one point Fr. Hardy introduced a second collection every Sunday; it was called the building fund collection.
On September 30, 1971, Fr. Normand Hardy was transferred and Fr. Eugene McCarthy becomes the new pastor of Ascension parish and St. Isabel Mission.
On Tuesday, October 5, 1971, Fr. McCarthy visited Sanibel and St. Isabel mission for the first time. The following Sunday he made mention of his visit and stated that “....I was disappointed with the condition of the church and its surroundings.” He called for a meeting with all parishioners to meet them and discuss some important issues.
On October 17, 1971, there was an official welcome of Fr. McCarthy at a reception in the parish hall at Ascension Parish. This was a combined welcome for the parishioners of Ascension and the parishioners of St. Isabel Mission.
Fr. Eugene McCarthy hit the road running when he came to Ascension. Shortly after he arrived he called meetings at the St. Isabel Mission to assess the situation and talk about the future of the little mission. In the weekly bulletin he appeals to both the parishioners and the visitors for financial support towards the necessary facilities.
Bishop McLaughlin visited St. Isabel mission on January 30, 1972, to say Mass and met as many parishioners as possible. He enjoyed his visit very much and was very impressed with this little mission. He was interested in the development of St. Isabel. The Bishop and Fr. McCarthy talked about the future plans and meeting with Mr. Matts, an architect.
In a church bulletin dated February 6, 1972, Fr. McCarthy mentions the feasibility of St. Isabel becoming a parish when a resident pastor is appointed.
Shortly after the Bishop’s visit, on February 3, 1972, Fr. McCarthy sent him a letter in which he recounts his meeting with Mr. Matts, the architect. At the meeting they discussed St. Isabel’s development plans. Mr. Matts was to draw up a master plan as soon as possible. Mr. Matts suggested at that same meeting to clear fifteen acres at the cost of $250 an acre. Bishop McLaughlin gave permission to clear the land in a letter dated February 11, 1972.
On February 27, 1972, Fr. McCarthy announced that 10 acres of the land will be cleared and also on this day the building Fund Campaign began. This is the direct quotation from the Weekly Bulletin:
“Development of St. Isabel - Within two or three weeks approximately 10 acres will be cleared on the property. It will cost $2,500. The architect has submitted to Father McCarthy the master plan. This is the first step necessary for the development.”
“Building Fund Campaign - Today, February 27, 1972, begins a Building Fund Campaign to provide the necessary facilities at St. Isabel’s Church. When I have all the facts I will present them to Bishop McLaughlin. If everything is in favor we hope that we can build a Rectory and a new parking lot at the Church. If there were a resident Pastor on the island, St. Isabel’s would then be officially declared a parish. It is important that each parishioner make a commitment to the Building Fund Campaign now. We are asking our tourists and friends to help. Give us a little encouragement and hope. It is for the Church. Thank you for your support and dedication.”
After this important announcement people made pledges for one year with the hope that each pledge would be renewed for another year.
There is a weekly second collection for the rectory-building fund. Such an announcement appeared in the bulletin. The building was slowly growing from week to week. As of August 20, 1972, the building fund had already received a total of $6,628.46.
On October 22, 1972, the following note appeared:
“From Your Pastor - Father McCarthy and Father Beauregard talked with Bishop McLaughlin during the past week in regards to the needs and development of St. Isabel’s Church. Bishop McLaughlin talked about the shortage of priests in the Diocese. Because of so many people moving into the state and so many new parishes, there will not be enough priests in a few years to meet this need. The Bishop wants the Building Fund to continue and hopes that in time a resident pastor can be assigned to St. Isabel’s. Father Beauregard is in good health and will continue to provide the spiritual needs at Sanibel. The Bishop of the Diocese appoints his priests and will continue to fulfill his responsibility to the whole diocese. If the development in Sanibel continues as it is thought it will, then it will be necessary perhaps in a short time to provide the facilities necessary to make it a parish.”
A group of concerned parishioners met on the evening of April 2, 1973, to discuss the possibility of initiating a parish organization for St. Isabel’s Mission. A spokesperson called Fr. McCarthy with this concern, and Fr. Planned a meeting April 9th for this purpose. In the minutes of that meeting it is recorded that Fr. McCarthy was most interested in the proposal of a new rectory for St. Isabel. He asked the small group to assist him in this endeavor, and that this group not get any larger. This committee would serve for one year until April 1974, when a St. Isabel Parish Council could be duly elected by the parish membership. Fr. McCarthy informed this small group that the fund drive had already collected $10,307 to date. He also said it was necessary to raise 50% of the cost of the new rectory by the time of construction.
The members of that first committee meeting were so excited about the possibility of a rectory that they volunteered to do some various menial work like painting the church and caring for the lawn.
At a meeting on May 10, 1973, this little group wanted some action and so they sent a letter to Fr. McCarthy with a copy to the Bishop. They wanted to begin construction on the rectory immediately and expressed the strong desire also that Fr. Beauregard be appointed pastor of St. Isabel’s to boot. In fact one person wanted to meet with the Bishop to express his sentiments about Fr. Beauregard serving as pastor. The contents of the letter clearly indicated the wishes of this group that they wanted a rectory and they wanted it now. Following is the letter in total:
St. Isabel Parish Council
Father Eugene McCarthy
Church of the Ascension
Ft. Myers Beach, FL
June 1, 1973
Dear Father McCarthy;
The Parish Council of St. Isabel Mission has, at our recent meetings, entertained discussions relevant to our duties and responsibilities to you and the Roman Catholics who live on and visit Sanibel and Captiva Islands. We have enclosed with this letter copies of the St. Isabel’s Parish Council meetings to date.
We wish to call to your attention the fact that we unanimously feel the need for a rectory and wish to initiate actions immediately in pursuit of this goal. We are attaching a plat plan of St. Isabel’s property with this letter. We are sending a copy of this letter to Bishop McLaughlin along with a master plan of St. Isabel’s Church property, prepared by Mr. Matts, the architect. In our opinion, this was the first step to be taken.
It is our hope that we can be made aware of any and all information desired by Bishop McLaughlin at the earliest possible date, so we may achieve our goal for St. Isabel Mission in the near future.
Our Building Fund currently amounts to more than $11,000.00.
Thank you for your kind consideration of our needs,
St. Isabel Parish Council
Donald T. Bissell
CC Bishop McLaughlin
Well, the Bishop was so impressed with the enthusiasm of this committee that he contacted Fr. McCarthy immediately asking for statistics and information about the mission. Fr. McCarthy answered the Bishop with the information and that it was the wish of the people that Father Beauregard be appointed the resident pastor. That letter was sent in June. In August Fr. Beauregard received a letter from the Bishop.
St. Isabel Gets its First Pastor
In a letter dated August 29, 1973, from Fr. Beauregard to Bishop McLaughlin, Fr. Beauregard thanks the Bishop for appointing him the Priest in charge. And on October 4, 1973, Bishop McLaughlin officially assigned Fr. Beauregard to St. Isabel’s Mission, Sanibel Island, Florida, effective as of October 10, 1973.
So Fr. Beauregard is assigned as the Priest-in-Charge; however, he is still living at Ascension Parish. Meanwhile the correspondence between Fr. Beauregard and the Bishop speaks of the master plans for St. Isabel Parish on Sanibel Island. In a letter dated December 10, 1973, to Fr. Beauregard the Bishop suggested two items:
- Consider provisions for classrooms or educational area, and
- Space for social activity, and
- Look for a house to rent or even buy to be used as a rectory.
A New Era Begins in St. Isabel
A Mission Becomes a Parish
From Ascension Parish Fr. Beauregard takes the reigns and begins looking for a house to rent on Sanibel. In fact with the help of the committee he has found an apartment at Sunset South. He moved in on December 19, 1974.
Fr. Beauregard works closely with the small group of men and shares with them the Bishop’s request for Educational and social space. On January 8, 1974, Fr. Beauregard writes a letter to inform the Bishop that his request will be the agenda at the next meeting. In the same letter Fr. Beauregard asks “May I ask you the favor of formally changing the status of St. Isabel Mission to St. Isabel Parish.” And in a postscript he requested permission to keep the Eucharist reserved in the tabernacle in the chapel.
On January 11, 1974, the Bishop responded that St. Isabel Mission was promoted to St. Isabel Parish when Fr. Beauregard was assigned as the administrator. Also the Bishop gave permission for the Blessed Sacrament to be reserved in the church in a secure tabernacle.
There had been much discussion and correspondence between the Bishop’s office, Fr. Beauregard, and Mr. Matts, the architect. Finally, on March 8, 1974, the Bishop sent a letter to Fr. Beauregard granting him official permission to begin construction on the rectory and the addition to the church.
It has been almost twenty years since Fr. Goni said that first mass in a private house for a few people. And now in 1974 there are so many people coming to Sanibel that Fr. Beauregard requested permission from the Bishop to use extraordinary ministers to pass out Communion. In a letter dated March 14, 1974, Fr. Beauregard says he needs help because he is saying three masses on Saturday and Sunday.
In the same letter he requests permission to allow the Greek Orthodox to receive the sacraments in St. Isabel. Fr. Beauregard pointed out that they do not have any churches near by and that the Episcopalian priest invited them to his church.
The Bishop responded on March 20, 1974, and gave permission for the Greek Orthodox families living on Sanibel Island to receive the sacraments of Penance and Holy Eucharist in St. Isabel’s Parish. The Bishop also approved of the extraordinary ministers.
Fr. Beauregard was very busy in those first months organizing a parish council by parishioner votes and a women’s guild. On the evening of June 18, 1974, the parish council reviewed the plans for the proposed rectory and the parish hall, and soon all the permits were pulled and permission granted for the construction of the new rectory.
In mid August 1975, Bishop McLaughlin came to Sanibel to see the progress of the new rectory. Following is an excerpt from August 24, 1975, bulletin.
Visit from the Bishop - Last week I had an impromptu visit from the Bishop, who came to see for himself the progress of the construction of the new rectory. He was more than amazed at and pleased with the rapidity of the construction, and with the efficiency of the set-up, and was especially impressed with the relatively low cost. He assured me that he will enjoy spending a few days of vacation in the new rectory.
By and by the rectory was getting completed. The parishioners were getting excited and Fr. Beauregard began announcing his new address on August 31, 1975. At the top of that bulletin he wrote “Please note that beginning October 1 our new address and telephone number will be: 3559 Sanibel-Captiva Road, Sanibel, FL 33957 - Telephone: 472-2763.” This announcement appeared every week in the bulletin until October 1, 1975. On October 5, 1975, Fr. Beauregard called attention to the new address: “As shown at the head of this bulletin.”
On November 16, 1975, there was an appeal in the bulletin asking for volunteers who would help organize landscaping around the rectory, because the new rectory would be dedicated on December 7 at 10 AM by Bishop B. McLaughlin.
Bishop Dedicates New Rectory
On December 7, 1975, the Rt. Reverend Charles McLaughlin, Bishop of St. Petersburg Diocese, piloted his own plane to reach Sanibel and dedicated the newly completed rectory. Sunday, December 7, also marked another “first” at St. Isabel’s as the first confirmation ceremony was performed by the Bishop at the Mass.
The parishioners were so thankful to God for their blessings. Now they will have their priest living among them. Their numbers were growing. St. Isabel grew from 9 families to 90 families.
The Parish was flourishing and ministering to its people. Fr. Beauregard began a group of Eucharistic Ministers, Lectors and a choir. A CCD program had been in progress for a few years by this time. As a matter of fact, it had all the signs and marks of a big city parish.
Some time after the dedication, the parish council and Fr. Beauregard talked about a shrine to Mary across the lake. In early March 1976, the statue of Mary was installed in the beautiful surrounding across the lake. After the installation, Fr. Beauregard appealed to the parishioners for seeds, plants and bushes to decorate the area near the statue. The response was overwhelming.
On May 16, 1976, at 8 PM many parishioners gathered around the lake to say the rosary and witness Fr. Beauregard bless the statue of Mary His announcement in the bulletin that day was very interesting. It read:
“DEDICATION OF STATUE - This evening after the 8 PM Mass we will walk in procession around the lake, reciting the Rosary, and I will bless the statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Please bring your flashlights with you. I want to remind you that this statue was installed to protect our parish, and this is why I invite you to come this evening to pay homage to Mary, and it will be a nice occasion to ask for special graces that you are hoping for from God.
One could not doubt that Mary has spread her mantle over St. Isabel Parish. There has always been a great devotion to Mary at St. Isabel’s.
On the lighter side for a moment, this writer wonders how bad the no-see-ums were that evening and were there any alligators to witness the dedication?
Fr. Beauregard Gets Help
As St. Isabel continued growing so also were the demands on the pastor. He asked for help from the Bishop. In early November 1976, Fr. Ladislaus Pelczynski was assigned as assistant pastor to St. Isabel. He remained one year until November 2, 1977, when his religious community transferred him.
Fr. James Kelly, S.J., was assigned for six months to replace Father Pelczynski. Fr. Kelly’s time was up and Fr. Donald J. Murphy arrived in the first week of April 1978.
Women’s Guild first meeting was held April 3, 1978. Officers would be elected at the next meeting.
May 28, 1978, Fr. Murphy leaves St. Isabel and Fr. Beauregard is alone once again.
Behind the scenes preparations were being made for new construction, namely an addition to the church. We read the first mention of the project in the June 11, 1978, parish bulletin. Fr. Beauregard simply states he is waiting for permits
On October 8, 1978, Fr. Beauregard welcomes Fr. John J. Tucker, S.J., from Western Massachusetts. He says Fr. Is not coming for just a few months. Fr. Tucker left February 27 due to illness.
The architect, Mr. Math, drew up a few proposals for a new addition to the church. The committee decided Phase I, which is considered the hall part of the church, as we know it today. Construction was completed December 1978, and on February 18, 1979, the parishioners had a dinner party to celebrate the occasion.
Bishop Charles B. McLaughlin died December 14, 1978.
On April 24, 1979, Msgr. W. Thomas Larkin was nominated the second Bishop of St. Petersburg Diocese. Pope John Paul II consecrated him in Rome on May 27.
In September 1979, Fr. Louis Reezek was assigned to St. Isabel Church as the Associate Pastor.
On December 7, 1979, Bishop Larkin came to Sanibel to dedicate the new addition to the church, the hall only.
May 18, 1980, Fr. Beauregard celebrates his 40th anniversary as a priest.
In early May of 1981, a parishioner donated the two fountains in the pond.
It wasn’t too long ago that the parish hall was dedicated and now there are plans afoot for a second addition to the church. On June 30, Fr. Beauregard received correspondence from Robert Matts, the architect, regarding a new addition to the church.
St. Isabel parish was growing rapidly and correspondingly needed more space and facilities for worship and CCD classes. The architect proposed three different sets of plans.
Fr. Beauregard and the Parish Council petitioned Bishop Keith Seymour in a letter, August 4, 1981, for permission to consider a campaign and to approve the drawings. And so, much correspondence between the Chancery office and St. Isabel was initiated. By December 23, 1981, Fr. Beauregard received permission to begin a building fund. However, the plans were not decided for some time. When he received the final plan, the addition would include expansion of the church opposite the hall with permanent seating, 3 classrooms and a kitchen. However, the building commission in the chancery returned a negative answer to the request for a separate parish center. (6/10/82)
On June 29, 1982, Fr. Beauregard received permission to proceed with the project of the completion of the church.
January 13, 1983, Fr. Beauregard sends a letter of resignation from St. Isabel Church, effective June 30, 1983.
In a bulletin announcement dated February 27, 1983, Fr. Beauregard mentions the expansion of the church is thresholding on completion and the new pews will be installed very soon. He mentions the pews are for sale at $500 each.
By March 27, 1983, Fr. Beauregard announced that all of the pews have been sold. Also the new altar was anonymously donated.
In the June 26, 1983, bulletin (?) Fr. Beauregard announces his resignation and also that Fr. Joseph Beaumont will be the new pastor. Fr. Joseph was officially welcomed by the parish on July 3 after the 10 AM Mass.
It was one month ago this past week that your new Pastor took over from Father Beauregard’s pastorship of St. Isabel Church. Things have happened. Father Joseph Moran moved in as Associate Pastor. Father Louis Reczek has gone to his new assignment in Zephyrhills. There have been conferences and meetings with Mr. Matts, our architect, and with officials of the Planning Commission of Sanibel City government. The White Studio of Sarasota has been commissioned to design and execute the missing stained glass panels in the “crying room” (three to four weeks to installation). The odds and ends of finishing up the addition to the church are being taken care of; the Parish rectory is in the process of being cleaned up.
Fr. Beaumont acknowledges the remarks of the visitors in the January 22, 1984 bulletin. “From the many comments I hear, those of you who see the enlarged and renovated church for the first time are delighted.”
Well, finally on May 14, 1984, Fr. Beaumont receives the certificate of occupancy for the new addition.
July 1984 Rome announces the creation of a new diocese - the Diocese of Venice. The most Reverend John Nevins, auxiliary Bishop of Miami, will head the new diocese.
September 30, 1984, Fr. Beaumont is honored at a retirement party for him.
Fr. Beaumont said good-bye to the parish October 7, 1984.
Fr. Murphy was coming from Cape Coral to cover the parish.
November 4, 1984, Father Charles Sullivan comes to St. Isabel and help Fr. Murphy until April 21, 1985.
On April 21, 1985, there was a farewell party for Fr. Sullivan and a welcome to Msgr. Schiefen and Fr. Al Mascherino. Fr. Al was then called back to his diocese in late October.
Msgr. Robert Schiefen, the reigning pastor, has been the pastor at St. Isabel Parish the longest. Upon his arrival he was greeted with a large debt. Through his diligent and precise bookkeeping he was able to liquidate the debt over a period of time.
Various associates served with Msgr. Schiefen. After Fr. Al Mascherino returned to his diocese Fr. Jerome Fraser arrived in early January 1986 and remained until late July 1987.
Fr. Jacques Nyssen replaced Fr. Fraser on July 31, 1987. In November 1987 Deacon George Batten arrives to help the priests with the sacraments.
In January 1989, Fr. Jacques became ill and therefore he needed to leave the parish and convalesce. Some time later Deacon George Patten moved from the parish. For a few months various priests filled in helping Msgr. Schiefen.
On June 30, 1989, Fr. Carmen Caruso, current Parochial Vicar, arrived from the Chicago area.
A Parish Center
Saint Isabel has seen many changes and has experienced much growth through the years. It was becoming more and more evident that the facilities were inadequate because of the growth. In October, 1992, Monsignor Robert Schiefen purchased the property at the corner of Sanibel-Captiva Road and Rabbit Road which was developed into a much needed parking lot, Now that the parish had more acreage for development, the topic of a new parish hail was the buzz in the parish circles.
Saint Isabel celebrated its twenty second year as a parish and had finally achieved an identity as a full size parish ministering to the spiritual needs of the community, providing religious education and a place to celebrate social functions.
Saint Isabel full religious education program needed additional space. There were only three classrooms for all classes encompassing K through 8th grade. Two classes had to meet in the parish rectory. It was time to consider proper classrooms for the children of the parish.
The social life of the parish was also thriving with parties throughout the year in the small hall which could only accommodate about 100 people at a time. Once a month the religious education program sponsored a pot luck dinner for the children and their families and the lack of room made it uncomfortable for dining. Dinner dances had to be limited.
Moreover the hall, which was in the west wing of the church building and separated from the church proper by an accordion wall, had to be transferred to provide additional seating for services on Sundays. During the week, the tables would he set up. This procedure was followed every week during the winter months. In addition the kitchen attached to the hail was very small and unable to handle the cooking for large crowds.
With all of these considerations in mind, that is, lack of space, inadequate social hall and kitchen facilities, it was decided to get permission from the bishop to build a new parish center.
A letter initiated the expansion and renovation appeal for the new parish center. The Saint Isabel family and some visitors appreciated the needs took the challenge to heart with their donations. They wanted this parish center, and saw to it that it would be built. The bishop granted permission and construction began in August 1996.
The new Parish Hall was finished in March 1997 and the day after the City of Sanibel gave the approval to use the building, 300 people came to open it with a grand Saint Patrick’s Day party.
On Friday evening, February 27, 1998, Most Reverend John J. Nevins, Bishop of Venice Diocese, came to Sanibel for the dedication and blessing of the new Saint Isabel Parish Center.
Possibly no one, other than a resident of Sanibel and a parishioner of Saint Isabel, can understand or appreciate the joy and pride which the people sense in their new parish center. Saint Isabel has been for all these years a close-knit parish - in a word, it is a family. Saint Isabel is a family and our fellow worshippers are our neighbors, our relatives and our friends.
Monsignor Robert Schiefen retired on June 5, 1998, and Father Anthony Pastucci was assigned the new pastor on July 3, 1998. Under Father Tony Saint Isabel Parish continues to grow and change to meet the needs of her parishioners. Already the sacristy has been moved to the front of the church and administrative offices have been moved from the house to the rear of the church. The rectory has received a new roof and some long needed repairs.
On February 12, 13, & 14th, 1999, Saint Isabel celebrated her Silver Jubilee. Twenty five years as a parish. This was a grand celebration with something for everyone.
Saturday evening was our Jubilee Ball, an elegant evening of song and dance, good food and great company.
The heart of our celebration was the 10:30 a.m. Solemn Mass celebrated by our Bishop, John J. Nevins. All our parish priests as well as some visiting concelebrated with the Bishop.
Our celebration ended with “A Festival of Nations”. There were displays of different nationality and ethnic groups with costumes, music, artifacts and foods.
On March 12, 2000 Father Anthony Pastucci was relieved of his position as Pastor at St. Isabel Parish.
Fr. Jacek Kowalik from the Diocese of Venice arrived to cover the parish.
On June 27, 2000 Father George Ratzmann was assigned as the new administrator of St. Isabel Parish. Fr. George had been serving as the Parochial Vicar at St. Anne Parish in Naples. He also served on the faculty of the Blessed Edmund Rice School for Pastoral Ministry and continued to do so during his service at St. Isabel Parish. On the anniversary of his arrival Fr. George Ratzmann was named as the Pastor of St. Isabel Parish.
Under Father George Saint Isabel Parish continued to flourish. During his tenure renovations were planned for the interior of the church to update its appearance. For some eight months, during the first phase of renovations, services were held in the church hall.
In January 2002, it was announced in our bulletin that Fr. Carmen Caruso would be leaving St. Isabel Parish to begin ministering at St. Andrew’s Parish in Cape Coral. Farewell receptions were held after each weekend mass on January 19 and January 20.
In March of 2003 it was announced that Fr. George would be leaving St. Isabel, and on April 23 he was transferred to his new position as Rector of Epiphany Cathedral in Venice, FL. Fr. Christopher Senk was named Administrator of St. Isabel Parish. Fr. Christopher had served as Administrator of Holy Cross Parish in Palmetto Florida.
The long time residents, parishioners and visitors of St. Isabel Parish welcomed Fr. Christopher to its close-knit faith community. During the summer of 2003 renovations begun under Fr. George were completed, including the installation of decorative oak trim and a new roof.
In May of 2004 the Parish Council of St. Isabel resigned from their positions in order to make way for a new Pastoral Council which would be appointed/voted on in the fall. Those plans were interrupted when on Friday, August 13, 2004, Hurricane Charley ripped through the islands, causing significant damage to the church. The rectory and church hall suffered minimal damage. Large portions of the new roof were blown off, causing serious water damage to the newly renovated space.
Once back on the island, Fr. Christopher, the staff, and more than a handful of volunteers began to salvage what they could and moved the church, once again, to the church hall. A small group of parishioners were present when the first post hurricane Mass was celebrated in the church hall on August 22. A second collection for the rebuilding of St. Isabel began on that day. A formal Building Fund Drive did not begin until March of 2006 with a goal of 4.75 million dollars. By the end of September work began to remove debris and the damaged pews from the church interior.
On April 17, 2005, Fr. Christopher was installed as Pastor of St. Isabel Church.
Major demolition of the damaged church began in the summer of 2005, and in the summer of 2006 it was determined for safety reasons that the office section of the Church needed to be included in the renovation plans. The fund drive was increased $250,000.00 to cover the costs of the office renovations, bringing the Building Fund goal to 5 million dollars.
During the period of construction the Church Hall became increasingly more cramped as people returned to the islands, and the office staff retrenched into two rooms of the hall, one of which, the former library, was also used as the sacristy.
On March 19, 2008, a Wednesday of Holy Week, Fr. Christopher and the parishioners of St. Isabel celebrated the first Mass in the newly refurbished space. While there were many things that still needed to be finished, celebrating the Sacred Triduum and Easter in the new space was a priority. A reception followed the Mass in the Church Hall and parishioners were ecstatic that their rather long and patient wait was rewarded with such a beautiful space.
On April 11, 2008, parking lot renovations and landscaping commenced.